At the beginning of Dead Letters a man wakes up in a cheap hotel room. He has no memory of who he is or how he got there and only learns his name, Sam, from a mysterious phone call saying that “They’re coming, Sam. You’d better start running.” Then follows a classic car chase coupled with a crash after which he is promptly ordered to take sides in a situation he knows nothing about. He also remembers that he knows how to use guns and puts that knowledge to extensive use, whereupon he discovers that at least some of the rules of combat have changed drastically and is introduced to yet another faction in the conflict. All of the people he meets assure him that he has some quality they need, using variations on the wording “You’re all you’re rumored to be.”
Christopher Sebela has set up the beginnings of quite a mystery with three different factions aiming for an unknown goal and a protagonist who still must puzzle out who he is and why he has ended up in the mysterious “here.” Sebela’s choice of location also gives him plenty of room for world building and development. It has already allowed him to give the noir mystery format a new twist. Sam, as a character, is a departure from the standard in the sense that, if he has a moral code beyond “I’m not really the follower type,” it is not in evident. What is evident is that he is a shoot first ask questions later (or never) sort as he uses his guns long before he has any sort of an idea what is going on. It remains to be seen whether he is in the kind of story that allows that behavior.
Chris Visions art is the book’s strongest point. It has a stylized, slightly off-kilter look, suitable to the strangeness of the situation. Many of the images are angled so that Sam looks slightly demonic, an appropriate choice given the situation and the current indication that Sam has no moral code at all. Ruth Redmond’s color choices are deliberately dulled. Mostly, this works well with the indistinct nature of the setting and helps orient it toward a pre-color, gangster-style world. Occasionally, however, the combination of low-detail artwork and muted colors makes it difficult to tell what happened to whom, even as it suits the ultimate revelation about where Sam is and why (assuming, that is, that his final source is telling the truth).
There are many questions that remain to be answered, among them: Who is the mysterious caller who alerts Sam to “their” presence, and what is his/her motivation? Would running really have done him any good? What are the people in this new location (“here”) fighting over? How and why is Sam special?